Validating Sustainability/Resilience and Quality of Life Indices to Identify Farm- and Community-Level Needs and Research and Education Opportunities

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $203,560.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Delta Land & Community, Inc.
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. James Worstell
Delta Land & Community

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Ecological resilience provides a means of assessing and improving sustainability of agricultural systems based on qualities present in both natural ecosystems and agroecosystems. Resilience is the amount of disturbance which a system can absorb before dissolving. Climate change is among the many disturbances to agricultural systems. We seek to determine the necessary qualities of resilient Southern agricultural systems.

    SSARE funding 20 years ago helped establish local processing and marketing as a key quality of sustainable systems. A local food movement has followed in the U.S. With SSARE funding provided two years ago, we examined ecological resilience of long-lasting local food systems created in recalcitrant areas of the South. Consistent with the resilience literature, we found that specific qualities were present in all these systems. By combining indicators of these qualities from databases such as the National Agricultural Census, we developed a draft sustainability/resilience index.

    Initial results are that counties with high resilience scores generally have high health scores, low poverty levels and stable to slightly increased population. However, some parts of the South show the reverse. We seek to understand why and modify the draft index if needed.

    The draft index also resulted in low resilience scores for many of the Southern counties which produce high levels of agricultural commodities. Two regions of the South ranked almost uniformly low on the draft index. However, some counties in these regions have very high resilience index scores (the Delta and the High Plains). These results raise two questions: Does the draft index need to be modified to accurately reflect resilience in high productivity areas and why do some counties in low resilience regions have high resilience scores?

    We propose a series of qualitative and quantitative research initiatives to answer these questions and use the answers to generate prototype research and education products to increase sustainability.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1. Determine the qualities conditioning ecological resilience in highly productive Southern agricultural systems through semi-structured interviews, focus groups and case studies in adjoining counties with opposite resilience scores.

    Objective 2. Elaborate and refine a resilience index based on county level secondary databases and a survey of stakeholders.

    Objective 3. Determine the relationship between the SRI and poverty, health and population indicators in regions which rank high on the resilience index and low on quality of life indicators.

    Objective 4. Develop research and education prototypes in highly productive regions through opportunity workshops for farmers, researchers and community leaders.

    Objective 5. Establish a continuing education process on Southern sustainability and resilience through an interactive website which supplies county level data and online assessments for Southern farms and communities based on analysis of all data from the first four objectives.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.